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Doubt and fear in Arab world

An enduring image: Saddam's face is covered by the Stars and Stripes
An enduring image: Saddam's face is covered by the Stars and Stripes

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Arab reaction to the fall of the Iraqi regime in Baghdad.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- While TV pictures show some Iraqis dancing on the fallen icons of Saddam Hussein, many onlookers from Arab nations remain uneasy about the transition in Iraq.

The media in neighboring countries expressed caution and suspicion at the sight of U.S. soldiers rolling their tanks into the center of Baghdad and hoisting the American flag on a statue of Saddam in Firdos Square.

That image -- before the soldier replaced it with an Iraqi flag -- dominated the front pages of newspapers in the region Thursday.

Arab television at the time referred to it as a "mistake," saying it "sent the wrong picture."

Al-Jazeera said through a translator: "This is the symbolism of what's going on. Everything will become American."

CNN's Jerrold Kessel said Palestinians in Israel had watched their television sets with disbelief, "almost despair," at Baghdad's fall.

They had looked at the Iraqi situation as a parallel to their own lives in Israel, Kessel added.

Meanwhile, some Egyptians fear their country may be next if Washington has a list for intervention.

The editor of the Cairo Times, Hisahm Kassem, said: "Today is a benchmark in Arab history. This is the fall of the first authoritarian regime, or what has become knows as a stable regime supported by the United States.

"I think it is going to have a domino effect throughout the Arab region."

CNN's Sheila MacVicar, in the Syrian capital Damascus, said: "What resonates here... is not the pictures of some Iraqis celebrating... but the pain and horror they have seen over the last three weeks."

Coverage has focused on civilian casualties and the upheaval for ordinary Iraqis.

Television sets were turned off in disgust by people working in the bazaars of Damascus after seeing the collapse of the Iraqi resistance.

Some Syrians, who also fear U.S. intervention in their country, regard the coalition forces in Iraq as occupation, not liberation.

MacVicar added: "The notion of what happens next is very much on people's minds. The question is what does the U.S. want?"

The speed of the Iraqi regime's collapse has prompted disappointment in some of the Arab media.

Algeria's Al-fajr newspaper asks: "Is it possible, Saddam made a secret deal with the Americans and the Russians and left Baghdad two nights ago?

"This could explain the melting away of thousands of troops."

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